I have just returned from doing a seminar and manning a booth with my husband George at Horse Fest in Springfield, Mo.  It was a three day event where I had an opportunity to demonstrate on horse back for one hour each day.  The rest of the day was spent in the booth answering questions and meeting people interested in barrel racing. 

Some of the people were experienced and some wanted to begin and I suspect that there were people all the way in the middle of those two groups in attendance. 

After spending those three days in that situation, I began to realize how very little many people know about their horse.  I asked questions during the talks and gave away free books to those who answered correctly.  When I asked who could give the three vital signs of a horse, not one person raised their hand.  After the talk, one lady came to the booth and wanted to know what would be the use of even knowing vital signs of a horse.  I told her that when you go to the Doctor, what is the first thing that he will do?  He will take your vital signs.  That is because it will give us a good indication what is going on in the body. He will usually take your temperature first.   If the temperature is rising, there is a probability of infection starting up in the body.  The body is designed to raise its temperature to kill anything that may be invading it.   Know the normal temperature of your horse.  Always carry your thermometer with you. 

The next thing that he will do is take your pulse.  In a horse, when you know what his resting heart rate is, you have a basis to know if something is stressing him because it will rise up when there is stress or pain in the body.  It is also a great thing to know about your horse, as after you run him in a race, you should have an idea of how long it takes him to go back to resting heart rate.  When he is in top condition, it will not take long.  When something is wrong, it can be elevated for hours. 

The next thing the Dr. will do is listen to your breathing.  If you know the breaths per minute of your horse when he is normal, then you will know if his breaths per minute have elevated to a larger number.  If his breaths per minute do not go back to normal within a reasonable time after a run, then he could have something wrong in the lungs or he could be out of shape.  Horses that are not in condition will not return to normal as quickly as those that are in shape.  I asked a great race horse man once time how quickly he expected his race horse to recover his heart rate and air.  He told me that by the time the race was over and he had walked the horse back to the paddock area, he should be returning to normal. That usually takes about 25-30 minutes.  That is if there is nothing sore or wrong in the body and if the horse is in top shape. 

We should also study how the horse moves.  One of the biggest questions at the seminar was how to quiet a barrel horse.  If you study how God made the horse, you will begin to realize that his footfalls are in a certain way.  To quiet the horse, you need to be in rhythm with these foot falls.  For example, a horse trots in diagonal pairs of legs.  It you learn to post on the correct diagonal (rise and fall with the leg on the wall) the horse will begin to relax because you are in rhythm with his movements.  You can then move him into a canter from a soft trot to keep him from taking off and scaring himself at the beginning of the pattern

Everything has to be done in rhythm with the horse to keep from scaring him.  The signals must be very clear.  I see people whipping their horse on the way back to score line and pulling up with their hand at the same time. This is a very mixed signal.  Problem solving is often just knowing your horse and riding him correctly.  If you know how he is, when something starts to change, it is time to listen up.  He could be telling you that his teeth need attention, the bit or saddle is hurting, he is sore somewhere, or not feeling well.  If we are not tuned into his normal ways, then we will miss it when something goes wrong.

You must KNOW your horse to be competitive on a regular basis.  Why do you think the ladies at the NFR are so tough?   They know their horses inside out and know if there is one bump that was not there yesterday when they brush and saddle that horse.  They know if he ate right, pooped normal and drank the amount of water that he usually drinks.  They know his personality and attitudes.  They know if his feet are getting too long and if his sheath needs cleaned. (If it is a gelding)   They know how to keep a mare’s bag and hind leg cracks clean and free of debris.)    

In short, if you know your horse, you will be able to catch anything before it might become a problem.  Happy Barrel racing and remember – you and your horse are a team.  Study your team mate and know as much about him as you do yourself.

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Last modified: January 05, 2014